Like many young girls, I was obsessed with vampires. But unlike most young girls, I wanted violent vampires. I wanted eternal beings who ripped out throats and drank blood like animals, not the lace-adorned romantic creatures who drift through the dark streets, yearning for the sun. So imagine my absolute delight when I discovered the film, 30 Days of Night (2007), directed by David Slade (Hard Candy). It was everything my young, demented heart craved. I watched it three times the weekend I discovered it. Yes, I forced my parents to watch it. Yes, they hated it. But I watched it each time with glee.
My glee grew tenfold when I realized it was based off a graphic novel by Steven Niles. I practically teleported to Borders (rest in peace) when I discovered this and devoured its pages like one of its vampiric monsters. In reading Niles’ work, I realized how different, yet similar, these two works were. For those unfamiliar with the story, 30 Days of Night takes place in Barrow, Alaska, which experiences a month of darkness every year. Most folks leave town, but a lucky few stay to weather the worst of the winter, including Sheriff Eben Oleson (played by 90s heartthrob Josh Hartnett in the film). News of this month-long nighttime reaches a gang of ancient vampires who now regard Barrow as an all-you-can-eat buffet. They head to the isolated Alaskan town to feast and wreak havoc. The few survivors must try and hide from the vampire clan, waiting out a freezing cold, blood-filled month.
In honor of #GreedyGuts month here at Nightmare on Film Street, I wanted to compare four key components from both the graphic novel and the film, not to prove one is better than the other, but to unpack what makes each unique and worth consuming.
Steven Niles’ graphic novel was illustrated by the talented and twisted Ben Templesmith, whose distinct artistic style lends itself perfectly to horror graphic novels. This was also Templesmith’s first full-length graphic novel. His style does not rely on crisp lines and well-defined forms. Rather, he focuses on meshing colors and ragged lines together to create strange shapes that slightly resemble people if you look at the page the right way. To put it bluntly, he does not color inside the lines.
His style is key to 30 Days of Night’s success, as he adds splashes of blood against dark night sky to create the story’s horror. Importantly, the red doesn’t just stand out from the cooler colors; rather, they blend together as nature and blood become one. He also is responsible for the horrific creature design. They are well-dressed vampires with shark-like teeth, appearing at first like business people on their way to a meeting until they open their mouths. They utter bone-tingling screeches, which are created perfectly in the film adaptation, and rip into flesh like well-cooked steak.
Cinematographer Jo Willems channeled Templesmith’s aesthetic, shooting it in 35mm and creating a blue color palette that adds to the chilled atmosphere. The use of blues also worked to emphasize the splashes and pools of blood that cover the snow as the days pass. The film’s creature design also beautifully captures Templesmith’s vampires, with their horrifying teeth and how they fear holes into their victims’ necks. 30 Days of Night captures the beauty in the gore of the graphic novel, which makes it almost hypnotizing to watch.
30 Days of Night has quite extensive lore involving how the vampires are organized, their elders, how they operate, and how far their tendrils extend in society. However, the film doesn’t focus on lore. Rather, it concentrates on its human characters. In the graphic novel, elder Vicente travels to Barrow to reprimand Marlowe for his lack of discretion. He is sloppy in his mass execution and could expose these creatures to the rest of the world. But film Marlowe (Danny Huston) is head honcho and doles out the punishment for sloppy kills. There is not much of a threat of the news leaking out to the rest of the world about their work; it is implied that they have easily covered their tracks. Vampire society is much more contained in the film, which suits the format, but there is much more to this clan of bloodsuckers than Slade portrays.
Outside of lore, graphic novel and film split off in two very important ways. First, the film excludes a subplot about vampire hunters getting wind of the plan for Barrow. These vampire hunters, based in New Orleans, try to document the destruction up north for further evidence of the existence of these creatures. This story was addressed in a later miniseries, but didn’t function in the film’s narrative. Again, Slade trimmed the fat to create a story solely about the characters in Barrow and their survival. He cut as much lore as possible to make a leaner, character-driven story.
He did this even further in the second important difference between novel and film: how the relationship between Eben and his wife, Stella, is portrayed. In the film, Eben and Stella (Melissa George) are separated, while in the graphic novel they are happily married. In having a rocky marriage instead of a happy one, the narrative shifts to their conflict, their love, and how they can come back together in the face of destruction. This fits the film’s post-9/11 context, where the male character must protect his home and wife at all costs. This major difference plays a huge role in the shape of each narrative. While the graphic novel focuses more on vampires, the film focuses on human survival and relationships.
While the first 30 Days of Night is my personal favorite iteration of the franchise, it became a series of graphic novels and films. There are thirteen trade paperbacks in total that dive into the world’s lore, and some even crossover with other franchises such as Dead Space and The X-Files. The series delves into the vampire hierarchy and how it extends throughout the world. Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith were connected to quite a few of the sequels (Templesmith even wrote and illustrated his own story, 30 Days of Night: Red Snow), but not all of them. I will admit it does not feel like a 30 Days of Night story without Templesmith’s unique style; seeing those vampires as more actualized forms just feels wrong.
There was a direct-to-DVD sequel to the 30 Days of Night film called Dark Days, based on the next graphic novel in the series, that follows Stella’s attempts to expose the truth about vampires. There was also a prequel miniseries called Blood Trails that was released on FEARnet (again, rest in peace) that address the New Orleans subplot left out of the original film. The releases of both films and graphic novels fueled my need for vampires, but I felt like the only person in my school that knew about them. They were my private, and weird, little world. They were my first big exposure to gore, guts, and violence and I will never forget the importance both the graphic novel and film had on my young, horror-loving mind. They are still some of my all-time pieces of horror media and will champion them until my dying breath.